The funeral of Idell Malthis was a family affair only. That is to say that the Lœngbærrow family organised it, and the Malthis family were in attendance.

It was always going to be a difficult time for everyone.

“I really wish I didn’t have to do this,” Marion said as she got ready, fixing the black lace veil on her hair. It was the appropriate thing to wear to a funeral, along with a long black dress that she privately thought came from the Bride of Dracula collection and which she had no intention of ever wearing again after this dreadful day was over. “I’m not in mourning. These clothes are a lie. I never liked Idell. And… I’m not glad she’s dead, but I’m not especially sorry she’s dead.”

“I understand,” Kristoph assured her. “But we are doing what is expected of us. Even though she was set aside as Remonte’s wife, her funeral is the responsibility of our House. As my Lady it is your duty to be at my side. And I to be beside my brother in his hour of grief.”

“Hour?” Marion laughed softly. “I don’t believe he has spared her that much. I don’t mean to sound cruel. But really…”

“Remonte feels it more deeply than he is letting on. I think it would be even harder if he did not have Rika to comfort him.”

“She has done that,” Marion agreed. “Will he be able…”

“There must be an official period of mourning. But after that, yes, I think he will decide to present her formally.”

“I’m glad. Though it will be a matter of gossip, I suppose.”

“I trust you will help her through that.”

There was a knock at the door, and Remonte came in, wearing a black robe that matched the one Kristoph was wearing, along with a black cloak fastened at the neck by a silver clasp bearing the crest of the House of Lœngbærrow. Rika was beside him, dressed in the clothes of a personal maid. Whatever the future held for her, she was, at present, still officially a servant of the house.

“It’s time,” Remonte said.

“Yes, it is,” Kristoph answered, fastening his own cloak. He looked at Rika. Of course, she could not attend the funeral in any capacity. That would be too scandalous.

“Stay here for the moment, child,” he told her kindly. “When we have left the house, go to Marion’s day room. Remonte will join you there when he is free of his duties.”

“Thank you,” she replied. Remonte kissed her gently and then walked with his brother and sister-in-law out of the room and down the wide stairs to the hall.

The coffin was in the hall. It was a simple one, though far from cheap. It was a long, slender, flattened wooden tube, rounded at both ends. It was completely sealed. Marion was glad of that. she didn’t really want to see Idell’s dead face.

The rest of the Lœngbærrow family were waiting. The former Lord de Lœngbærrow and his wife, his sister, Thedera, and their two daughters. Oriana was in a mourning outfit that matched Marion’s. Her husband, Lord Lessage was dressed just as Remonte and Kristoph were. Renita was in a plain black version of the silk and satin vestments of the Sisterhood with a headdress and veil that covered all of her face. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, it was Renita who stepped forward and embraced her younger brother, whispering words of comfort to him. He hugged her lovingly. Oriana made no such gesture. In the veil, it was hard to know what her expression was, but Marion had a feeling she was as frosty as ever. Idell had been a friend of hers before she was ostracised from the family. She may well have been genuinely mourning. If so, she was the only one of the Lœngbærrow family who was.

The Malthis family were almost certainly genuine in their mourning, and in their embarrassment at being guests in the House of Lœngbærrow in the circumstances. Marion looked at Idell’s sister, Shiony, who had been the cause of so much trouble before her Alliance to Kristoph. There was a brother who stood beside her, and their parents. Marion wondered where the baby was, Idell’s child. Remonte’s child, too, though it did not have his name. She wondered if Remonte would have liked to see the baby. If he did, the Malthis family were certainly not forthcoming.

It was the quietest funeral party Marion had ever seen. And the most emotionally strained. She watched as Kristoph and Remonte stepped forward and Idell’s brother and father did likewise. They, between them, picked up the bier on which the coffin rested. Caolin and a footman opened the doors wide and stood with heads bowed as they moved outside. Marion felt Thedera take her arm on one side as Oriana fell into step wordlessly on her other side. They all followed the coffin out and down the steps onto the gravel, and then across the meadow beside the house to a small walled off part of the gardens. There were Chancellery Guards flanking their route. The Castellan himself waited on the driveway and bowed his head respectfully, but his men did not. They were not an honour guard. They were there for protection. This was a private funeral, within the Lœngbærrow estate itself. But it was always possible that the murderer, who had already made two attempts on Marion’s life, might try his luck.

The funeral pyre was already partially built. Marion had been rather aghast when she learnt that an open cremation was the traditional form of funeral on Gallifrey. She was used to burials or cremation in a closed furnace. She found the idea rather macabre, and it was a secondary reason why she felt she didn’t want to be here. She looked at the carefully constructed structure of oil-soaked faggots, built up into a rectangular shape. The coffin fitted neatly into a hollow in the top and then more oil-soaked sticks of wood were built up on top. Close by, but not too close, a brazier was lit, and unlit torches were set in the ground next to it.

There was a long silence, then Idell’s father stepped forward and spoke formally in High Gallifreyan. These were the words of the funeral service. Then he stepped back and Remonte, without any words at all stepped forward. His expression was unreadable. He was holding in all his emotions. But it could not have been easy for him. He took up a torch and lit it, and then touched it against the pyre in several places. Somebody took the torch from him and he stepped back to his place. Kristoph reached out and held his shoulder as the fire took hold.

Marion turned her face away at first, but something made her look around. It wasn’t as bad as she thought. The flames were very hot and nothing could be seen within. She had dreaded the thought of the coffin burning through and being able to see the body within the fire. But it was not so bad as that, after all.

It didn’t take very long. No more than half an hour for the fast burning, oil soaked wood to consume itself. Then, as ashes began to form on top of the remaining fire, something made her turn her head again. A glimpse of something unusual. She saw a dot of red light on Oriana’s throat at the end of an almost invisible line in the air. She realised what it must be and screamed as she pushed Oriana down and out of the line of fire moments before a bullet smashed into the stone wall behind them.

There was uproar. The Malthis family screamed in unison and ducked down in panic. Remonte pulled Renita and Thedera to the ground and his father covered his mother as they both lay on the ground. Kristoph crouched, looking around with trained eyes. He saw the same red line and the telltale dot, this time focussed on the back of Renita’s head. He forced himself to look around, tracing the line. He shouted to the Chancellery guards, pointing as he began to run. The Malthis son saw what was happening and ran with him, so did Oriana’s husband, Lord Lessage, along with some of the guards. He heard the sound of the shot being fired and a cry behind him, but he didn’t dare look around to see which of his family was the target. His objective was to reach the assassin and prevent him from firing again.

Marion was the first to move. She saw Renita, lying still, her silk veil covered in blood. Remonte was lying across her, a ghastly hole in his shoulder where the bullet had torn into him. She reached out to them both. Renita turned to look at her, pulling off the torn and blood-soaked veil. She was unhurt. The blood was all Remonte’s. Marion tried to lift him but he was dead weight and the effort hurt him too much. She was glad when Thedera came to help her to lay him down with his cloak under his head. Renita at once knelt by his side. She pulled away his robe to reveal the ghastly extent of the damage.

“These bullets… they’re made to shatter inside the body and cause lead poisoning in the blood.” Her soft, gentle voice sounded wrong talking about bullets and poison. “I must get the pieces out before he can be moved. Please… I must concentrate.”

“Oriana, shut up,” Thedera ordered, and at once Oriana stopped making a dreadful howling sound. She backed away from the scene, hiding her face. Aineytta stood nearby, anxious for her youngest son, but held back by her husband. Thedera marched over to the Malthis clan and ordered them, too, to be quiet while Renita worked her healing upon her brother.

First she touched his face and drew away the pain. Marion, holding his head in her lap, felt him gasp with relief. But it was still a difficult process for him.

“Stay awake, Remonte,” she told him. “Stay awake. Stay with us. Rika would never forgive us if you were lost. She’s waiting for you in the house. Stay with us until Renita is finished. And then your mother is just itching to use her potions on you….”

“I’m… not as brave as my brother,” he whispered. “I don’t think I can… I…”

“Yes, you are, and you can,” Marion insisted. She steeled herself to look. Renita’s hands were glossy with his blood as she held them close to the wound and concentrated. She watched in amazement as the fragments of the bullet rose up as if her hands were magnetic. He gritted his teeth, because even though Renita had blocked most of the pain it was still a dreadful experience for him.

At last, she was satisfied that the lead was all out of his body. Two of the guards were standing by with a makeshift stretcher to carry him back to the house. Aineytta was finally allowed next to him and clutched his hand all the way while her husband walked at her side. Marion was with Thedera and Renita. Oriana trailed behind them, murmuring loudly about how she had been the target of the assassin this time. It seemed, Marion thought, as if she was determined to get some of the attention that was currently being given to her brother.

Thedera turned.

“Be quiet,” she told her sharply. “You’re not hurt. And you have Marion to thank for that. Remonte is going to be all right in a little while, too. And it’s to be hoped that the one responsible has been brought to ground by now. We’ve all got a lot to be thankful for.”

Oriana was startled by Thedera’s tone, and, perhaps, by the realisation that she owed her life to Marion, the alien she had resented ever since she first set foot on Gallifrey. Anyway, she remained quiet until they reached the house.

Rika was beside Caolin as the stretcher party came through the door. She ran to her lover’s side. He reached out his spare hand to her and smiled warmly.

“I’m all right,” he promised her, though his voice was weak and he clearly needed much more help, yet.

“Take him to his room,” Aineytta ordered. “Child, go with him. Be his comfort. I must find what I need in the kitchen garden.” Renita followed her mother as Rika went upstairs with her stricken lover. Marion wondered if she should follow them. But then Lord de Lœngbærrow caught her arm and whispered to her.

“You are mistress of this house. You have guests.” She looked around. Apart from Thedera and Oriana, there was Lord Malthis and his wife and their daughter, all looking worried and confused.

“I’m supposed to entertain them while…” But she knew he was right. It was her role. He turned to go upstairs to be with his son. Marion looked at her ‘guests’ and then ushered them into the drawing room, inviting them to sit while she ordered refreshments.

But how was she supposed to entertain people she didn’t like? This was the first time Oriana had been in this house where she was born since before the Alliance when Marion became mistress of it. The Malthis family were far from friends. Idell’s conduct and Shiony’s complicity with her, had soured that relationship. What was she supposed to say to them?

Caolin and one of the kitchen servants arrived with pots of tea. Earth tea. Thedera led the way by declaring that it was the very thing she needed right now. Oriana looked at it suspiciously. So did Shiony. Lady Malthis tasted it and professed herself surprised. She asked Marion where it came from.

“From Earth, my home planet,” she answered. “It is grown in the hotter parts of that world. It’s a leaf that is dried out and then reconstituted as a drink…” She stopped mid-sentence. What was she doing, talking about tea when Remonte could be dying upstairs.

“I’m sorry, she said. “I can’t do this. I can’t sit here putting on my best manners and talking small talk. Not when… I just can’t.”

She ran from the room. She knew it was a social faux pas, and Oriana would probably make the most of it among her social circle, telling how the foreigner had failed in her duty as a Lady of Gallifrey. But she didn’t care. She just had to get out of that room.

“Kristoph!” She cried out in relief as she saw him come into the hall followed by the Malthis son and Lord Lessage. She managed to tell the other two men that their families were in the drawing room before she collapsed into Kristoph’s arms. She managed to tell him what had happened to Remonte in as few words as possible. To her surprise he looked reassured.

“If Renita and my mother are tending to him, he will be fine. What about Rika?”

“She’s with him, too. Nobody could keep her away.”

“Then he is in the best hands. Three women who love him dearly. Meanwhile…” Kristoph looked grim. He clasped her hands firmly. “It is over,” he said.

“You caught the one who did it?”

“He killed himself. He was surrounded by the Chancellery Guard. They trapped him in the copse near the walled meadow. He used a personal perception filter to hide in the trees when they secured the area earlier. But when we gave chase he lost it. He was brought to ground. But he refused to give up. He called out a few foolish words of defiance and then shot himself in the head with the same weapon he attacked us with. At such close range, those shattering bullets… his brain was pulped. It was over instantly.”

“Ugh.” Marion shuddered. “So we’ll never know why?”

“I know why,” Kristoph told her. “He is brother in law to a man I sent to Shada. The man’s wife killed herself rather than bear the shame. And he vowed to destroy the one who had destroyed his sister. That’s why he didn’t attack me. He attacked you… and when that failed… Idell was an easy target in the city. But it didn’t devastate us as he hoped it would. So he chose a new target… And he would have killed Oriana if you hadn’t spotted his laser sight. I hope she is properly grateful for that.”

“I’m not sure she is, but I don’t really care. As long as Remonte is going to be all right and this really is over. But how was he able to kill Idell so… you said it was professional. A special way of breaking the neck!”

Kristoph sighed. “Yes, he was a CIA man. That’s why his methods were so varied, and so elaborate. The tampering with your car, the long range sniper shot… And poor Idell…”


“Yes,” Kristoph sighed. “Poor Idell. Now it is over, now I have a chance to draw breath, I find I can’t hate her. She was a victim all along. A victim of her own ambitions, and then finally a victim of a stranger who didn’t even know her. He only killed her to get at me. She didn’t deserve that.” He sighed. “Remonte set her aside formally. Even the child is no longer his responsibility. He belongs to the Malthis family. And once they go home, today, there is no reason any of us should ever have reason to speak to them again. Remonte is fully intending to present Rika as his fiancée in the course of time. And I am glad of that. I think she will make him happy. But I am very sorry that Idell is dead and that there was never an opportunity for her to make up for her past actions towards all of us, or for us to forgive her those actions.”

“Perhaps we should try to remember her more kindly,” Marion suggested.

“Yes,” Kristoph said. “Yes, we’ll try to do that.” He sighed again and drew her close to him, glad of her soft comfort in these emotionally weary times.

“Kristoph!” He looked around as his younger sister’s gentle voice called out to him. He saw Renita on the stairs, dressed in a plain dress from some forgotten wardrobe in the house, because her robes had been ruined. She was smiling. “He wants to see you,” she said. “As if there aren’t enough people at his bedside. He needs his brother.”

“Of course he does,” Kristoph answered. “I’ll be there in a moment. Marion… will you go and tell Thedera and Oriana that all is well.”

“I have to go back in there?” Her heart sank at the thought.

“Yes, my dear. Go and do your duty. We all of us must do that. Later, we shall have peace. Bear yourself with the dignity of your own race until then.”

He kissed her gently and then went to the stairs. Marion turned and steeled herself to return to the drawing room, her courage renewed by Kristoph’s words and by the fact that she had good news to report.

But she would be glad when this day was over and they did have that peace Kristoph promised her.